Kenyan Engineer Recycles Plastic Into Bricks Stronger Than Concrete
Nzambi Matee is an entrepreneur with an incredible goal — to turn plastic destined for the landfill into sustainable, strong building material. Her company, Gjenge Makers, uses the plastic waste of commercial facilities to create bricks that can withstand twice the weight threshold of concrete.
Gjenge Makers is based in Nairobi, Kenya, where plastic waste pollution has become a severe problem. A study supported by the National Environmental Management Agency (NEMA) found that more than 50% of cattle near urban areas in Kenya had plastic in their stomachs. To combat this issue, the Kenyan government outlawed the use of plastic bags in 2017, and imposed a ban on all single-use plastic in protected natural areas last year. However, these bans only address the issue of consumer single-use plastic. Commercial waste is still a deep-seated problem within the country.
Nzambi Matee told reporters she was “tired of being on the sidelines,” and decided to create a solution of her own for commercial plastic waste. With a career in materials engineering, she was able to design a brick made of recycled plastic and sand, compressed and heated to create a strong and sustainable alternative to concrete. The fibrous structure of the plastic makes it not only more lightweight but also less brittle than concrete.
“Our product is almost five to seven times stronger than concrete,” Matee told Reuters about the current line of Gjenge Makers pavers and bricks. While she purchases some plastic from recycling companies, she also receives free shipments of plastic waste from local packaging factories. Currently, the Gjenge Makers factory can produce up to 1,500 bricks each day, according to Reuters.
The company offers pavers for residential and commercial uses. The heavy-duty 60 mm paver is strong enough to be used for parking lots and roads, while the 30 mm light-duty paver can be used for household patios and walkways. The light-duty paver is twice the strength of concrete and comes in a variety of colors.
The factory is only in its beginning stages, but it has already recycled 20 tons of plastic since 2017 and created 120 jobs in Nairobi. In addition, Gjenge bricks are also one of the more affordable options on the market. They cost approximately $7.70 per square meter, as opposed to $98 per square yard for concrete produced in the U.S.
However, it hasn’t been an easy road. Matee says about the founding of her company, “I jumped in, off a cliff without even a parachute. I was building it as I was falling down. But isn’t that how great things are done?”
With entrepreneurs like Matee, there is a beacon of hope for the worldwide plastic pollution crisis. To learn more about Gjenge Makers process and impact, you can visit their website or YouTube channel. Or, read this to learn more about ways you can help fight against plastic pollution in your community.
New Jersey Legislature Passes ‘Most Comprehensive’ Plastics Ban in the Nation